Thhe Mets' Jeff McNeil hits an RBI single against the Brewers...

Thhe Mets' Jeff McNeil hits an RBI single against the Brewers during the first inning of an MLB game at Citi Field on June 16. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Ender Inciarte had hoped for months to return to the majors in New York this year. But he didn't expect it to happen like this.

The veteran outfielder, who had spent most of the season with the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate after signing a minor-league contract with them in December, joined the Mets as their new backup Tuesday. He replaced Nick Plummer, who was 0-for-20 this month and hadn’t played in a week. The Mets sent him to Triple-A Syracuse, where he'll be able to play regularly.

June has been a busy month for Inciarte. After a frank conversation with Yankees decision-makers about his chances of getting called up, he exercised his opt-out clause in the middle of the month, signed with the Mets a few days later, joined Syracuse for several games and by Tuesday afternoon had a No. 22 jersey hanging in his locker at Citi Field.  

“I got nothing but good things to say about the Yankees. They treated me very well, with a lot of respect,” Inciarte said. “Once . . . they told me it was going to be a little hard for me to make it where the goal is — to play in the big leagues — it was easy for me to make a decision. The first team to come talk to me were the Mets. I had a great conversation (with the front office). Whatever my role is here, I’m going to try to help this team win.”  

Inciarte figures to fill a glove-first reserve role, able to spell any of Brandon Nimmo, Starling Marte and Mark Canha when needed. He never has been much of a hitter, and when his offensive skills deteriorated further last season Atlanta cut him, ending his eight-season career there.  

Now he is back in the NL East and hoping to help the Mets dethrone the defending champions — and then some.

“I know this team is competing to win the World Series. I’ll be happy to be a part of that,” Inciarte said. “There’s a lot of good memories here (as a visiting player). Having this opportunity with the best team in the NL, it means the world to me. I’m not going to take it for granted. I’m going to try to do my best in any opportunity that I get.”

The Mets designated lefthander Locke St. John for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Inciarte. They claimed him off waivers from the Cubs last month but he never appeared in the majors.

Mac is back  

Jeff McNeil returned to the Mets’ lineup Tuesday after missing five games with a right hamstring injury.  

“I feel like myself again,” he said. “I’m feeling stronger and happy to be back.”  

Now he can continue his All-Star campaign. With perhaps the best offensive season of any second baseman in the NL, McNeil likened his year so far to the first half of his 2019, when he made the Midsummer Classic in his first full season.  

“Obviously, I would love to make it,” he said. “I feel like I’ve done enough and feel like I’m back to myself. It’s kind of like the first half I had in 2019. Happy to be in consideration. We’ll see what happens.”  

Game time  

The Mets’ July 24 game against the Padres was claimed by ESPN by “Sunday Night Baseball,” so it changed from an afternoon start to a 7 p.m. first pitch.  

Extra bases  

Buck Showalter indicated Drew Smith has an inning limit this year but declined to say what it is. He has thrown 31 2/3 innings this year after combining for 50 1/3 the previous three seasons. “I know where the finish line is on him,” he said. “We hope to stay very close to that number.” . . . Luis Guillorme’s shoulder “needed a day,” according to Showalter, so he wasn’t an option to start Tuesday . . . Travis Jankowski (broken left hand) has advanced to hitting off a tee. He said he plans to be back before the end of the first half (July 17).